Like the vuvuzela: some things are just a lot of noise

Research from 1990* shows only 0.26% of people with disabilities (PwDs) employed in the open market and, in 1993, disability grants were paid out to over half-a-million people. This means that an estimated 99% of PwDs were, at that time, excluded from employment on the open labour market.

In 2003 PwDs accounted for 1% of the work force - but today only 0.6% of our work force is made up of PwDs.According to the Code of Good Practice on Employment Equity the target is between 4% and 7% depending on the region’s demographics. Government’s target for itself is 2% by 2014.

The EEA (Employment Equity Act) emphasises equality, right to equal protection and benefit of the law for PwDs - meaning that employers may no longer make assumptions about the ability of PwDs to perform. Employers must interview PwDs and make their workplace accessible. The Act protects PwDs against discrimination in the workplace and directs employers to implement affirmative action measures.

Many PwDs work in sheltered or protective workshops either run by the Depts of Welfare and Labour, welfare organisations or by disabled people themselves. The rest are unemployed.

Charlotte Vuyiswa McClain stated in her article** Democracy & Disability in South Africa: Still Three Nations: “...people with disabilities still face unacceptable social and economic exclusion. Disabled people are disproportionately among the poorest of the poor and more likely than our able-bodied peers to be uneducated, unemployed or under-employed.”
She says that the plight of 2,5 million disabled people, particularly among the black community, was highlighted in a nationwide study which found - after 12 years of the EEA and almost 10 years since the establishment of the 27 SETAs (Skills Education and Training Authorities) - an astonishing 88% unemployment rate among PwDs.

SETAs and Learnerships

The SETAs provide training in their industries and are accredited by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA). They are responsible for the disbursement of training levies paid by all employers. Of SETA learnerships - 4% should be offered to PwDs.

Tony Webb, who runs the Sponge programme, says “It has been an ongoing problem to get the SETAs to act. The SETAs have millions in their budgets. 4% should be available for training and skills development of PwDs, but it is not happening.”

He concedes that some SETAs operate in sectors that are not always suited to PwDs but insists that, “Many SETAs are also not trained or sensitised to disability. They just do not know what is going on and when they hear ‘disability’ they run for cover.”

Disability and Transformation

Sharon Snell, COO of the InSETA (Insurance Sector Education and Training Authority) explains that the mobility impaired fall into the general disability category and are promoted under general transformation codes and charters in the various industries.

“There are different methods in each industry, so the banking industry and the construction industry may have different targets for example.”

InSETA is one of the more successful SETAs when it comes to assisting PwDs. This time last year they exceeded targets set by the Department of Labour for the training of PwDs by 299%.

“The way to succeed is to ensure learnerships are available - and then to encourage companies to take on the learnerships,” explains Snell.

“It is the marketing to companies of our learnerships that has made us successful. Companies in this sector are showing a willingness to take on learners with disabilities. For example, Santam employed over 77% of the disabled learners who successfully completed their learnership.”

Successful learnerships

Another example is the learnership programme put together by Glenrand MIB and the Workers Academy of Insurance, a provider of learnerships in the insurance sector, which is fully accredited by SAQA through InSETA. As one of the largest learnerships for disabled people in the insurance industry it comprises 32 learners, of whom twenty-four were disabled.

The success of the project is the link between theory and practical training. The Workers Academy of Insurance conducted theoretical training and the hands-on, on-the-job, learning took place within the actual working environment of Glenrand MIB.

All of the learners were previously unemployed and sourced from previously disadvantaged communities around Johannesburg.

Raising awareness

Last year InSETA introduced their National Disability Awards honouring, and raising the profile of, workers with disabilities who make a difference in the workplace and individuals or organisations supporting the advancement of PwDs. Santam and Glenrand MIB received Merit Awards in the National Disability Company category.

Elements of success

Another SETA that is achieving in the disability sector is Services SETA (SSeta). Part of its success, says Webb, is that its sectors are well suited to people with disabilities.

“The SSeta provides opportunities in the administration, business, office and PC environment.”

Another reason for their success is the service providers they utilise. One of SSETA’s accredited providers is Siyaya Skills Institute, a national group of companies with branches in all of the major centers throughout South Africa and accredited as a training provider with SSeta, the Department of Education (as a FET College) and the Department of Labour.

Patti Oakes, CEO of Siyaya Skills Institute is passionate about the upskilling of people with disabilities. “We identified the important role that we could play in assisting to meet National Disability targets. As a result we obtained the facilities and the necessary skills, and upgraded them to accommodate various types of disabilities. We also formed consultation groups with disability organisations.”

Their first projects, in 2008, entailed the enrollment of 500 learners with disabilities.

“The learners were recruited from Port Elizabeth, Cape Town and Durban. The project put learners through full qualifications such as business administration, hygiene and cleaning and a Certificate in Generic Management. Of the initial 500 learners, 418 successfully completed the programme and 80% of these gained full-time employment.”

A further 200 learners have completed Learnerships and this year an additional 500 learners have been enrolled in a project including a National Certificate in Business practice, made possible, says Patti, thanks to SSETA initiatives.

Claiming for training

Patti explains that every company in the country pays a Skills Levy through SARS. “This goes through the national Skills Authority to the relevant SETA. If a client can prove they have done training then they get 50% of this levy back.”

“Mainly discretionary funds are used to fund Learnerhsips and Bursaries for the learners with disabilities.”

She cannot see why companies are not employing people with disabilities. “The fact is that the government has excellent incentives in place for companies who do hire people with disabilities, so it makes no sense not to hire people with disabilities.”

The fear factor

Part of the reason she thinks is that companies are scared.
“There is a fear factor out there that, if a company employs a person with a disability, they would have to change the rules, such as time keeping - or have separate rules for people with disabilities. They are also scared of the costs of remodelling their environment.”

Companies have to provide reasonable accommodation to people with disabilities. This she says is not as difficult as companies think. “We have employed about 20 of our own learners who are among our most loyal employees. In addition, we run 400 computers in PE and Cape Town fitted with the necessary assistive devices to assist the learning process. We adjusted our working environment to provide easy access.

Understanding the issues

Why are we so far behind in terms of the targets set for people with disabilities in the open workplace? Patti says the reason may be twofold. “Firstly, the majority of people with disabilities come out of the townships - where there is still a social stigma attached to having a disability. The other reason is access.”

Even some SETAs do not understand disability issues.

“Some SETAs want a guarantee of learners being placed in the workplace upfront. We cannot do that. There is a process that is involved. We take four months to do matching of learners and companies and to audit the work and the workplace. We also keep learners with us for a minimum of three to four months before we place them.”

This is not to say that some of the SETAs have not found innovative ways to assist people with disabilities.

“SSeta lead the pack. We have also just started 50 learners on a Retail qualification with the Wholesale and Retail SETA.

The future

Whether more SETAs will assist PwDs remains to be seen - as the SETAs now fall under the Department of Education. A major restructuring was announced recently by the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande.

As we enter the second half of the year we take an opportunity to recall the words of the Minister for Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities, Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya: “This year we will ensure that all employers attain the two percent employment target for persons with disabilities. It’s a non-negotiable target; we need to move faster than we did before and ensure that the implementation of the laws and policies are in place.”

Blow that vuvuzela!!!

* Source: White Paper on Integrated National Disability Strategy (1997)

How to find out about learnerships

There are a variety of channels that people with disabilities can access in order to find out about, or register for, a learnership.
You can also contact your disability organisation or regional SETA offices.

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